INKSPILL Guest Writer Heather Wastie – Editing a Poem



I am delighted that Heather Wastie agreed to be a Guest Writer for Inkspill 2014 and even happier to hear she enjoyed preparing these articles for us. After reading Heather’s biography HERE you will know that she is more than a poet, I met her in her poetry skin and I am grateful that she has picked up on the editing theme for poets. Poetry is difficult to edit and poets can not always follow traditional editing techniques – so here is Heather Wastie sharing her experience with you all.

HEATHER WASTIE – Guest Writer Inkspill 2014

Heather Wastie headshot

Editing a poem

Written for Inkspill Writing Retreat


When I have an idea for a poem, I start by jotting down what’s in my head, usually on my phone or in a notebook. I then transfer the initial idea to the computer, edit it and print it out. Next I write amendments on the printed sheet and type up, continuing this process until I’m happy. Usually the drafts get discarded, but there’s one recent poem I drafted twice in a notebook because I was on a boating holiday at the time and didn’t have access to a computer. So I’ve typed it all up and shared it below so you can see my thought process.


Usually when I start a poem, I don’t know what form it will take. A form will emerge though, and I take great care to make sure it looks good on the page. I know a poem is finished when it looks pleasing to the eye and feels right when I read it aloud eg I don’t trip over words, and the line breaks and stanzas make sense. If at all possible, it’s best to write a poem and put it away for a while to be read again as if you have never seen it before. It’s amazing what you can spot that wasn’t obvious before.


I had a one-to-one session with Sara-Jane Arbury a few years ago, looking at poems I’d written but wasn’t quite happy with. I’ve included 2 poems with this article. The first was helped along by Sara-Jane. It didn’t need much tweaking, but her suggestions made all the difference. One change was in the number of stanzas. Spaghetti Hoops refers to 7 tins in a cupboard; the poem now has 7 stanzas, something readers and audience may never even notice, but it strengthened the piece. Sharing new poems with friends and fellow writers is always helpful.


The poem I’ve used to show my writing process is Histrionic Water, one of three chosen by Jo Bell for inclusion in The Kingfisher Corridor: Poetry on the Canals at the Library of Birmingham in October 2013. It was this event which triggered a process resulting in the commission of Idle Women & Judies by the Canal & River Trust. See these blog posts for more information


I hope this has been useful! You may also be interested in reading my blog about how I came to be Writer in Residence at the Museum of Carpet in Kidderminster  Happy writing!


Heather Wastie

awf-2014 whirl

26th October 2014



Histrionic Water


Initial idea

When I was a child, my family was involved in campaigning to restore the canal system and we spent many a weekend and holiday struggling our narrow boat along the neglected waterways. During a poetry workshop with Jo Bell in 2013, I visited the top of a flight of locks in the centre of Wolverhampton and was taken aback by the fact that the water was crystal clear. Jo explained that there was a ‘stoppage’ caused by vandalism on the flight which meant that no boats had passed through for a while. I decided I wanted to write a poem about this anomaly so I jotted down a few thoughts.


We rescued

water from oil

bridge holes from mattresses

locks from shopping trolleys

propellers from wire

hulls from oil drums

walls from graffiti

tunnels from neglect


we rocked

we winched

we flushed

we towed


As well as a windlass

our tools a turfer,

magnet and wire cutters



First draft



We saved it


In Wolverhampton

fish take me by surprise

Looking down from Broad Street Bridge

then from the towpath edge

I need an explanation

for such unexpected clarity

a snap shot of

reeds, fish and sulky sediment

A vandal induced stoppage


We saved this water

from oil slick, effluent, blackened

polystyrene icebergs, mattress tangled

shopping trolleys, half inched bikes,

rusty poles which poked like Excalibur,

contents of living rooms tipped,

settees which could have been

sat on by drunks chucking beer bottles,

cans and dead animals,

polythene bags, oh the polythene bags.


This water

has no right to sparkle

We saved it to be stirred.





Version 2 has a different title, is taking shape on the page, and personifies the water, a different way of recalling the past.


Listen to the water


In Wolverhampton

fish take me by surprise


Looking down from Broad Street Bridge

then from the towpath edge


I need an explanation

for such unexpected clarity


A long exposure of minnows,

lush reeds and sulky sediment


“It’s ironic,” says the cut water, “I have been cleansed

by a vandal induced stoppage.”


You saved me

from oil slick, effluent, blackened

polystyrene icebergs, mattress tangled

shopping trolleys, half inched bikes,

malicious metal spikes,

contents of living rooms tipped,


I was soap sud soup with beer bottle croutons

peppered with cans and the odd chunks of meat.

You saved me from polythene,

suffocation and extinction.


I fear the onset of duck weed.

I have no right to sparkle.

You saved me to be stirred.




Other titles I considered:


Water with a history

Save water

 AWF circle

Heather has been kind enough to let us see her finished poems. Follow the links; Histrionic water & Spaghetti hoops

10 responses »

  1. Heather it was fascinating tracking the journey of a poem this way and seeing how someone else tackles the edit. Thanks for this post and generously letting us publish the final poems too.

    I remember going to The Birmingham Literature Festival 2013 to watch The Kingfisher Corridor: Poetry on the Canals, it was brilliant! Jo Bell upsold me the ticket when I met her the day before. I practically lived at the BLF last year.

    Inspired by you all in 2013 and through constant support to improve and get better, this year I managed to perform poetry at it too!

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